Down by six with less than 6 minutes to play, Kansas State could have crumbled.
Instead, the Wildcats thrived, finishing the game on a 16-4 scoring run to beat No. 25 Oklahoma, 72-66 on Tuesday in Bramlage Coliseum.
(Kansas State freshman Wesley Iwundu shoots one of his three 3-pointers on the night against Oklahoma on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum).
The Wildcats (13-4, 3-1 Big 12 ) were trailing 62-56 after an 11-2 run by the Sooners that left K-State little time to recover.
K-State got a corner 3-pointer from Wesley Iwundu, who was 3 for 3 from the perimeter, to cut the lead to three points, and then Marcus Foster hit a long jumper to cut the lead to one.
Oklahoma (13-4, 2-2) coach Lon Kruger said the sequence stole all the momentum from the Sooners.
“That was a big 3,” he said. “Iwundu hit that 3 to cut it to three, that gave them some life to jump back into the ball game. And than Foster made a real tough 16-foot jumper at the free-throw line.”
After a Sooners free throw, Thomas Gipson scored his first field goal on a put back from a Shane Southwell miss to tie the game, and Foster made his fourth 3 of the game to push the Wildcats ahead 66-63 with 2:19 to play. Oklahoma wouldn’t get any closer than two points the rest of the way, as the Wildcats scored five straight points at the free-throw line to salt the game away.
Foster finished the game with 18 points, while Southwell had 16, Iwundu scored 11, Nino Williams had 10 and Will Spradling finished with 10.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said Foster and Iwundu made key plays down the stretch that were aided by big plays from some of the teams veteran players.
“Gut check part of the game the freshmen really jumped up,” he said. “Wes made the big 3 in the corner when we were struggling, then Shane shoots a shot-clock play and Thomas gets a rebound and then Marcus hits a big bucket. And then Wes has two big offensive rebounds on free throws.”
After Foster’s made 3 to push the lead to three, Iwundu was called for a foul on what looked like a clean tip-back on a missed free throw by the Wildcats. Despite the close call going against him, Iwundu stayed active, chasing loose balls and getting offensive rebounds on K-State’s next two misses at the free-throw line.
(Kansas State’s Marcus Foster tries to get past Oklahoma’s Je’lon Hornbeak on Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum. Foster had 18 points).
Kruger said K-State seemed to make all the plays at the end of the game.
“I thought down the stretch Kansas State did some really good things,” he said. “They made shots that they needed to, got loose balls, got second shots — we didn’t convert on our end.”
With K-State leading 67-64, the Sooners had a chance to cut into the lead, but Cameron Clark had the ball poked away by Southwell as he drove to the basket, and Williams recovered the loose ball.
Clark, the leading scorer in the Big 12 at 18.3 points per game, was held to just two points on 1-of-9 shooting, and made his only field goal with 8:14 to play in the second half.
Southwell, who guarded him most of the night, said he just wanted to make everything tough for the OU senior.
“I just wanted to be active,” he said. “I’ve known Cam for a long time, I know he’s a pretty good player, he’s a much-improved player. I just wanted to go out there and challenge every shot.”
Although it was a pretty even game from start to finish, there was a moment in the first half when it looked like K-State couldn’t miss and might close the book early on Oklahoma.
Trailing 14-8, Foster knocked down his first 3 of the game with 13:54 to play in the first frame, only to see Oklahoma’s Frank Booker score one on the other end. Foster wasn’t finished though, knocking 3s down in the next two possessions for K-State to tie the game at 17. And then his teammates took over.
Feeding off the energy, Spradling made a 3 and then Iwundu followed with his first of the game to push the lead out to 23-17.
“That’s definitely a confidence booster,” Foster said. “Offense is going to come. We’re not too worried about offense right now, we’re worried about defense. Once you stop a team, then you can come down and get into rhythm on offense.”
The Wildcats went into the break with a 39-38 lead after Spradling was fouled on a last-second 3-point attempt, and made all three free throws.
The Wildcats spent the game getting dominated in the rebounding battle, allowing the Sooners to rack up 19 offensive rebounds. The rebounding effort was led by leading scorer Ryan Spangler, who finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
The biggest issue for the Wildcats in the post was the absence of Thomas Gipson, who missed almost 15 minutes of action in the first half with two fouls, and then picked up his third at the 18:28 mark of the second frame.
(Kansas State’s Thomas Gipson defends Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark on Tuesday night. Clark, the Big 12’s leading scorer going into the game, was held to just two points).
Weber said he was somewhat surprised at his team’s ability to play without Gipson, after struggling without him in a season-opening loss to Northern Colorado.
“Thomas has been our rock-solid guy and he probably has one of his worst games,” he said. “Two fouls right away and another to start the second half, never really gets going. We did it without our inside threat.”
Despite getting banged around on the offensive boards, the Wildcats actually managed to win the battle 42-38, thanks to getting 12 of the last 14 rebound opportunities.
After losing by 26 to Kansas on Saturday, the Wildcats knew they needed to regroup and avoid back-to-back losses, much like they did with consecutive losses to Kansas and Iowa State a season ago.
Foster said from the start of the game, they put Saturday behind them.
“Coaches talked about last year how they lost to Kansas and they couldn’t recover right to beat Iowa State and lost to Iowa State,” he said. “This was big for us. We have to bounce back from that Kansas loss. It wasn’t even on our mind, we were focused on OU.”
The Wildcats will be at home again on Saturday, hosting West Virginia at 12:30 p.m.
Wildcats receive Maui surfboard
During the first half, K-State mascot Willie the Wildcat took the court with a ceremonial surfboard given to each team that will play in next year’s Maui Invitational.
The surfboard was the first step towards preparations for next year’s tournament, which will take place in late-November.
Joining the Wildcats in the tournament will be Arizona, San Diego State, Pittsburgh, BYU, Missouri, Purdue and host school Chaminade.That was a big 3,